In 1969, DePaul University acquired its first original, handwritten letter by St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), presented by the well-known book collector and DePaul alumnus Abel Berland. Since that time, through other generous gifts and judicious purchases, it has added to that first letter seven-fold. DePaul’s eight Vincent letters represents the largest such collection outside of Europe. The letters are the collective cornerstone of DePaul’s Vincentian Studies Collection, a multidisciplinary corpus of resources pertaining to the study of St. Vincent and the Vincentian Family. They, along with bulk of the Vincentian Studies Collection, are currently housed in DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives department at the John T. Richardson Library.
In 2013, the decision was made to digitize these eight letters and make them more accessible to the public. The result of this effort is a new DePaul Library digital collection, St. Vincent’s Handwritten Letters. It can be a powerful experience to view 400-year-old letters written by the hand of Vincent, but the collection will also give scholars and researchers a chance to pore over the way the letters have been written—underlining, scratch-outs, and bolder passages—which cannot be replicated in the print volumes of Vincent’s correspondence.
Each letter includes a transcription and translation of the respective text, which allows users easy access to Vincent’s words. The 17th century penmanship of these letters can be difficult for most of us to read, even with a knowledge of French.
The letters themselves range in topic, from the mundane (in which Vincent simply writes that he has nothing much to say) to the essential (in which Vincent explains his opposition to the then-popular heresy of Jansenism). They span the years of 1641-1660, a fertile period during which Vincent’s influence was at its height. By 1640, he was one of the leading figures in the French Counter-Reformation, and had founded the Ladies of Charity (1617), the Congregation of the Mission (1625), and the Daughters of Charity (1633). In his final two decades, Vincent would be appointed to the royal Council of Conscience, he would grapple with Jansenist controversy, and he would spread his religious message of charity through Europe, into North Africa, to as far away as Madagascar. By his death on September 27, 1660, he was the administrator of a vast network of religious and charitable endeavors, and one of the most well-known and revered figures in France.
We hope this collection further illuminates the figure of St. Vincent, whose four-century legacy of charity and respect for humanity informs the fundamental mission of DePaul even today.
If you have any questions or feedback about this collection, please contact Andrew Rea, DePaul University's Vincentian Librarian.